Christians differ about climate
NEW YORK - Despite a newfound focus among many Christian leaders on environmental care, a new survey suggests that rank-and-file Christians are far less concerned than non-believers about environmental issues.
According to the survey, conducted by the Barna Group, 33 percent of evangelicals say global warming presents a "major challenge" in society today. Meanwhile, 62 percent of respondents who subscribe to a faith other than Christianity and 69 percent of atheists and agnostics say they believe climate change is a significant problem.
The results, taken by phone surveys in January 2007 and July-August 2007, also found that half of the nation's 95 million "born-again" adults think global warming is a major problem.
Researchers differentiated between "born-again" Christians and "evangelical" Christians in the survey, characterizing the former as those who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus and believe they will go to heaven upon death because they have confessed their sins and trusted Jesus. The latter were defined using the "born-again" criteria, plus seven other theological beliefs and pietistic practices.
The survey showed that Catholics were more worried about global warming than Protestants, with 59 percent and 52 percent concerned, respectively.
The survey merely confirms the fact that Christians in America disagree about climate change, said David Kinnaman, Barna's president. "Evangelicals would rather think about other things", he said in a press release. "Non-evangelicals say the environment is important to them, yet they are far from convinced that global warming is as important as everyone says. By contrast, many non-Christians view global climate alterations as the central element of their environmental engagement."
The groups with the largest proportions concerned about global warming include Democrats, with 67 percent; people living in the Northeast and Hispanics; at 65 percent each; and unchurched adults, with 64 percent.
Sub-groups with the lowest percentages showing concern over global warming include Republicans, with 38 saying it is a major challenge; the "economically downscale", with 48 percent; and 51 percent of people living in the Midwest.
Calvin Beisner, an associate professor of historical theology and social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, has written extensively about ethics, public policy and the environment. Beisner, who wrote Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry Into the Environmental Debate, said the most important thing Christians should do to protect the environment is study the Bible and obey its teachings. Human action, enlightened by a biblical worldview and Christian ethics -as well as good science, economics and other intellectual pursuits- can improve the natural world, he said.
Christians should "preach the gospel and disciple those converted to Christ so that they begin living increasingly obediently to the whole of the Bible" to protect the earth, Beisner said. "They, in turn, can then become increasingly responsible citizens in their own communities."
Kinnaman echoed that sentiment in his report on the survey's findings. Recycling, conservation and responsible consumerism are all part of becoming "the best possible stewards of God's resources", he said. But, he added, ignoring environmental concerns could hurt perceptions of Christians among non-Christians, since the study indicates the latter are greatly concerned about ecology. "Like it or not, if outsiders do not see Christians embodying biblical care related to creation, a Christian's influence is significantly diminished." (ABP)
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